Function-Based Conceptual Engineering and the Authority Problem

Mind 131 (524):1247-1278 (2022)
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In this paper, I identify a central problem for conceptual engineering: the problem of showing concept-users why they should recognise the authority of the concepts advocated by engineers. I argue that this authority problem cannot generally be solved by appealing to the increased precision, consistency, or other theoretical virtues of engineered concepts. Outside contexts in which we anyway already aim to realise theoretical virtues, solving the authority problem requires engineering to take a functional turn and attend to the functions of concepts. But this then presents us with the problem of how to specify a concept’s function. I argue that extant solutions to this function specification problem are unsatisfactory for engineering purposes, because the functions they identify fail to reliably bestow authority on concepts, and hence fail to solve the authority problem. What is required is an authoritative notion of conceptual function: an account of the functions of concepts which simultaneously shows why concepts fulfilling such functions should be recognised as having authority. I offer an account that meets this combination of demands by specifying the functions of concepts in terms of how they tie in with our present concerns.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern


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